Fed Gov’t Hires Consultants to Review Rail in Southwestern Ontario

Wouldn’t it be nice to travel from Toronto to Québec City on frequent and reliable high speed rail? Well the Federal government thinks so to. Borrowing from $396.8 million over two years set aside in the 2022 Federal budget for Transport Canada and Infrastructure Canada, the Ministry of Transportation has engaged two consultants to look at transforming passenger rail in the country’s busiest corridor.

CPCS Transcom Limited (CPCS), in association with WSP, have been engaged as external advisors to analyze options to enhance passenger rail service in Southwestern Ontario. Their goal: to examine present and future passenger rail demand, evaluate existing routes, identify options for new alignments as needed, and provide financial analysis.

“High Frequency Rail is a transformational project that will provide more frequent, faster, and more reliable service on modern accessible trains,” said Federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra in a statement. “We’re pleased to announce that we now have external advisors with expertise in railway planning, engineering and operations to analyze options that will support our commitment to improved railway service in Southwestern Ontario.”

Among the outcomes the government is looking for is the reduction of travel times by up to 90 minutes on some routes, more trips between major cities, reliable and improved on-time service, electrified technology, and new services between Peterborough and Trois-Rivières. The Federal government is also promising to work with Indigenous Peoples and take into consideration their views as options for the rail corridor are developed.

Of course, this is not the first time that high speed rail has been considered for this portion of the rail corridor. Indeed the idea goes all the way back to the 90s with a variety of options from VIA Rail and a consortium that included SNC-Lavalin and Bombardier, who at the time was developing the JetTrain, a train engine capable of 5,000 horsepower that never evolved beyond the prototype stage.

High speed rail went back on the front burner in the 2010s when the Federal government, the Ontario government and several municipal governments were aligned in a project that would connect the Golden Horseshoe with a high speed rail line by 2031 for a cost of $20 billion.

A May 2017 announcement kicked off the first phase of the project, $15 million for a comprehensive environmental assessment for a rail line that would use a combination of existing track and new dedicated track to create a seven-stop high speed rail corridor from Toronto to Windsor, through Guelph, Kitchener, London, and Chatham-Kent. The Toronto to London portion was meant to be completed by 2025. When the Progressive Conservatives came to power, all funding for the project was stopped in the 2019 provincial budget.

Back here in 2022, the Government of Canada hopes to issue Request for Qualifications in early 2023 and to send out Request for Proposals in late spring 2023. Alghabra will also host a stakeholder roundtable on passenger rail service in Southwestern Ontario.

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